Government Urges Industry to Tackle Problem Gambling

The British government has strongly urged the gambling sector to combat the growing risk of problem gambling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Culture Minister, Nigel Huddleston has written to five prominent online gambling operators to encourage them to heighten player protections. Huddleston will also host a virtual meeting to discuss the impact of coronavirus with gambling charities.

Boats on the river Thames outside London's Houses of Parliament.

For the first time in history, this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions took place with many MPs choosing to attend via videolink, due to the coronavirus outbreak. ©Shane Rounce/Unsplash

Targeting Leading Operators

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, otherwise known as the DCMS, has asked the industry to provide information on gambling patterns while the UK is on lockdown. This includes intelligence on how gambling firms are managing the risk of problem gambling and how safer gambling can be promoted.

Nigel Huddleston is the Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, as well as the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage. He chose to address his concerns to the chief executives of five of the best known online gambling firms operating in the UK today. These are Bet365, GVC, Skybet, William Hill and Flutter. The Culture Minister also wrote to the Betting and Gaming Council, a trade body that represents around 90% of businesses in the gambling industry.

Huddleston has outlined three main requests from operators. These are to regularly provide tracked information on consumer gambling habits, improve player protections and to create more prominent safer gambling messaging in brand advertising.

“As we stay at home and spend more time online, it is vital that no stone is left unturned in protecting people from gambling related harm.”

The final request, to make safer gambling messaging more prominent across TV, radio, print and online media, comes in response to concerns raised by the Advertising Standards Authority. According to the ASA, it has received an increased number of gambling-related complaints since the coronavirus pandemic began.

On April 7th, the ASA reiterated a clear code of conduct to remind operators to heed advertising standards. This includes the protection of vulnerable people and those who are below the legal gambling age. The ASA has also encouraged consumers to report problems that they may come across, as well as providing useful guidelines to look out for.

2005 Gambling Act to be Reviewed

The aim of this list of requests is to allow the DCMS, working alongside the Gambling Commission, to get a full picture of how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting gambling habits. It can then work on tackling potential risks and review whether the actions that operators are taking are effective enough.

The DCMS’s requests follow concerns that social distancing measures could be causing a rise in problem gambling. As of yet, there is little in the way of concrete evidence to support this claim, although the Gambling Commission has also raised this potential issue.

According to the Gambling Commission, there has already been an increase in use of online casino games, such as slots and poker, as well as virtual sports. This is thought to be down to the widespread cancellation of sporting events. Sports bettors have turned to online casinos and virtual sports for new wagering opportunities.

Concerns have also been raised over how much more addictive online casinos are than sports betting. Those who play at online casinos are more than three times as likely to have a gambling problem than their sports betting counterparts.

“Whilst overall gambling participation has fallen in recent weeks and the industry has made notable contributions to support the national response, we must take proactive steps now, and keep these measures under review. I expect patterns of play to be closely monitored so we can move quickly if there is any evidence of problem gambling increasing. I also want more to be done to promote responsible gambling during the pandemic.”Nigel Huddleston MP, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Huddleston is also due to host a “virtual roundtable” meeting with leading gambling support and treatment organizations. The impact of coronavirus is likely to be the main talking point. Other issues, such as monitoring the progress of remote gambling treatments and self-exclusion measures will also be up for discussion.

One of the most recent regulatory upheavals saw online self-exclusion tool, Gamstop, become mandatory for all UK operators from the end of March. Operators have also had to adapt to the credit card gambling ban, which became enforceable on April 14th.

The government is also set to conduct a review of the Gambling Act, which has not changed all that much since it was introduced in 2005. It is in need of updating to bring it into line with technological advances. The Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group has already launched its review, ahead of the review to be conducted by the DCMS.

“We want to listen to the legitimate concerns people have of the gambling industry as well as ensure the industry gets a fair hearing as well. I am determined that we listen to a wide range of views and make evidence based recommendations which will ensure we enhance our global reputation as having the best regulated gambling industry in the world.”Philip Davies MP, Co-Chair, Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group

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